Narcolepsy is a somewhat common sleep disorder that affects roughly 1 in 2,000 Americans. Patients develop it between the ages of 15 and 25 and deal with it for the rest of their lives. We spoke to Iwona Rawinis, M.D., medical director of The Center for Sleep Medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, for one approach to the medical problems from which you or your loved ones may suffer when trying to sleep.
If you think you might have narcolepsy, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Saira Bajwa
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness as well as sleep attacks during which the patient goes directly from being awake to a state of deep REM sleep, contrary to the normal sleeping process. Narcolepsy is sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, sleep paralysis and cataplexy, resulting in sudden muscle loss.
Seek Professional HelpDr. Rawinis strongly advises an early professional consult with a sleep expert. "Narcolepsy can really affect the quality of life a patient can lead," she says. "I have seen so many patients who have waited years, and sometimes decades, to seek a diagnosis. If you're inexplicably tired regardless of how much sleep you have had, please see a sleep expert." Primary doctors may not be able to recognize the signs of narcolepsy so seeking help from sleep experts is advised.
Nap TimeTaking scheduled naps throughout the day can prevent some patients from dozing off unexpectedly. Dr. Rawinis says that taking two to three naps throughout the day for at least 15 to 20 minutes can increase alertness by controlling excessive daytime sleepiness. This should not affect your nighttime sleep.
Join A Support GroupNarcolepsy can leave many patients feeling isolated and alone. "Dealing with narcolepsy is much easier when you know other people are facing the same obstacles," says Dr. Rawinis. "Hearing how others cope with it is a helpful way to adjust our own lifestyle so you can better handle this disorder."
Inform Your School/WorkIf you're diagnosed with narcolepsy, you should keep your colleagues and classmates informed. Some employers may be able to adjust work schedules, allow short naps throughout the day or provide other accommodations.
Sleep Well At NightGetting the right amount of sleep is important for anyone suffering from narcolepsy. Daytime sleepiness is exacerbated by lack of proper rest.
Iwona Rawinis, M.D., is a board-certified sleep specialist. Dr. Rawinis also serves as the medical director of The Center for Sleep Medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage. She attended medical school in Poland, followed by residency at St. Luke's hospital in New York City and a fellowship at Winthrop-University Hospital in Long Island.
Have you ever suffered from narcolepsy? What worked for you?